Despite early memories of “Sleeping Beauty,” I don’t recall many particulars of the princess herself. She was kind. She was sweet and considerate and beautiful, and throughout my childhood, she always seemed oddly faceless.
The elements I remember most vividly are not integral to the story. When I think of Sleeping Beauty, I think of three illustrations from a book I owned. In an another book, they would look entirely different, or perhaps would not be present at all.
In the first illustration, the childless queen, in tears over her barren state, is approached by a magical golden crab who promises her a daughter (and then proceeds to be absent for the rest of the story).
The second illustration is more dramatic and depicts the concerned king and queen overseeing the burning of every spinning wheel in the region on a huge bonfire, which engulfs the entire page in its flames. The last is by far the most disturbing, and shows the noble prince fighting his way through an immense thicket of brambles, surrounded by the pale corpses of all the would-be rescuers who came before him.
You will notice that at no point do any of these illustrations involve the princess. The book was ostensibly about her, but she was not Doing Things. She was being cursed, being protected, being put to sleep, then kissed awake again. Things happened, but not because she precipitated them.
What I’m thinking about is this: I loved my picturebook-version of Sleeping Beauty, but I believed that it was about a king and queen, victims of a terrible curse. It was about a kingdom-wide ban on spindles. It was about a valiant prince, a wall of thorns, and everything else was just scenery.